Stalin and the POWs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Aug 6 15:30:01 MDT 1999

>BTW, Stalin did not intern returning POWs for long periods, but they were
>screened, and properly so. Before Louis finds that 'terrible' he ought to
>explain what the Soviets should have done instead. Accepted American rule?

I suspect that if I was a Soviet POW who immediately after being
repatriated discovered that he was not to be returned to his wife and
children, but directly to a detention center, would have developed a deep
hatred for Stalin on the spot. My father was in the Battle of the Bulge in
the winter of 1945, when I was being born. He dodged German bullets in
order to deliver water and food to the men trapped at Bastogne. I imagine
what he would have felt like after months of freezing cold, lice,
diarrhea, hunger and dodging German bullets to learn that his next
destination was a detention camp, where he would be screened to find out if
he was a true patriot or a dirty spy. This is called being found guilty
until proven innocent. Considering the state of Soviet legality during
Stalin's rule, this was a hopeless situation to find oneself in.

Yes, the extremities of being an isolated socialist country generated
extreme behavior at the top, just as occurs in any revolution in its
"Thermidor" phase. Thermidor is not outside of the revolution, but a phase
within it. But it is a mistake to champion Thermidor. In order for us to
build a powerful socialist movement, we need to embrace revolutionary
traditions from the revolution in its proudest moments, like the kind that
John Reed documented. Even if Mark is right about the need to screen these
unfortunate souls, my question is how this advances our liberation project
in the year 1999, as we face the next century.

The thing that strikes me about Mark's focus is the sheer hairshirt
quality. Instead of writing about workers on the march, headed toward
victory, he depicts humiliation and suspicion. This is not a model of
socialism that any working person would identify with. It is a Kafkaesque
nightmare. As far as what we should say favorably about Stalin, I think
that the best approach is the one taken by Michael Parenti, who has done
more than anybody to combat knee-jerk hatred of the Soviet Union:

"What we do know of Stalin's purges is that many victims were Communist
party officials, managers, military officers, and other strategically
situated individuals whom the dictator saw fit to incarcerate or liquidate.
In addition, whole catagories of people whom Stalin considered of
unreliable loyalty-- Cossacks, Crimean Tarters, and ethnic Germans--were
selected for internal deportation. Though they never saw the inside of a
prison or labor camp, they were subjected to noncustodial resettlement in
Central Asia and Siberia.

"To be sure, crimes of state were committed in communist countries and many
political prisoners were unjustly interned and even murdered. But the
inflated numbers offered by cold-war scholars serve neither historical
truth nor the cause of justice but merely help to reinforce a knee-jerk
fear and loathing of those terrible Reds."

At any rate, the crimes of Stalin are great enough to outweigh any of his
strengths. By linking the Soviet Union to his rule, furthermore, we are
succumbing to a "Great Man" theory of history which is the last thing we
should be doing. In all of Mark's posts, I have yet to see a probing
examination of Soviet society. For us to make sense of the former Soviet
Union, we should be examining class relations between the workers and the
peasants, or the workers and the bureaucracy. Most of what I have read from
Mark seems curiously uncurious about what average people were doing or
thinking, starting with these miserable POW's.

Louis Proyect

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